Sunday, August 26, 2007


Today's New York Times Book Review contains a sneering dismissal by David Brooks of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, in which Drew Westen argues that Democrats lose elections because they're not as good as Republicans at playing on emotions.

Brooks finds this especially contemptible:

Westen ... wishes ... Al Gore had hit George Bush harder for being a drunk. He wishes Gore had interrupted a presidential debate and barked at Bush, "If someone is going to restore dignity to the Oval Office, it isn't a man who drank his way through three decades of his life and got investigated by his father's own Securities and Exchange Commission for swindling people out of their retirement savings."

At another point, he imagines Gore exploding: "Why don't you tell us how many times you got behind the wheel of a car with a few drinks under your belt, endangering your neighbors' kids? Where I come from, we call that a drunk." If Democrats would go for people's primitive passions in this way, Westen argues, they'd win elections.

You know what? I agree with Brooks -- Gore shouldn't have said anything like that. If Gore had said those things, he would have been castigated for nastiness and rudeness, not to mention failure to show compassion for recovering substance abusers.

No, what he should have done was send out a phalanx of low-level supporters and media surrogates to say these things for him. They could have been plenty nasty, while he would have remained above the fray, high-mindedly refusing to set foot in the gutter himself, but not lifting a finger to intercede as the gutter fighting escalated. And some of the nastiest surrogates, when not attacking Bush, would have praised Gore for precisely that above-the-fray position, saying that he simply doesn't engage in partisan name-calling, even as they engage in it for him (cf., for example, Rush Limbaugh's conversation with Karl Rove a couple of weeks ago).

So, yes, David Brooks is right -- Gore should never, ever have called Bush a drunk. That kind of nastiness is what the help is for, as George W. Bush has made clear for years.

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